A message given Sunday, July 15, 2007
by Rev. Scott Summerville
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a nice little parable – a story of crime, blood, cold hearted cruelty, and human indifference to the pain of others. In this parable a Jewish man is beaten and stripped and robbed and left to die; his fellow countrymen pass him by as he lies at the roadside. He would have died except that the enemy of his people, a hated Samaritan, stopped, and with loving concern anointed and bound his wounds, brought him to shelter, and attended to all his needs.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
The people who pass by and do nothing, the priest and the Levite, were men distinguished by their religious roles in Jewish life. They were connected to what we today might call “organized religion.” Priests and Levites hearing this story might have been offended, or they might have justified the priest and the Levite: “Don’t judge these men harshly – they were forbidden to make contact with a dead body, and how were they to know the man was still alive?”
An ordinary Jew of Jesus’ time might hear the story unfold and say, “Yeah, those priests and Levites; they only care about their rituals and privileges – they don’t care about us! You just watch – I know how this story ends – a lowly ordinary Jewish peasant is going to come along and helps his brother.”
But Jesus’ story probably would have shocked and offended them all, for it is not even a Jew who stops to aid the Jewish traveler, beaten and bloody:
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
The parable depicts a Samaritan, a member of a religious and ethnic group despised by the Jews, and who held the same opinion of the Jews. A wall of bigotry, conflict, and longstanding enmity stood between the Jew and the Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were severely restricted in their contact with one another and in even touching the ground of the other they risked becoming ritually impure.
In the action of one person, a Samaritan walking the Jericho road on business, Jesus devastates the concept of superior and inferior races, and he challenges the idea of superior and inferior religions, and challenges the notions of purity and impurity that were so deeply stamped into the brains of the people of his day. All of this he does as he answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
He also slams the idea that some people are more holy than others because of their religious training or their religious titles or their religious pedigrees.
In the story of the Samaritan Jesus transcends the bigotry of his day. It is the religiously impure Samaritan who pities the wounded Jew; he gives his time. He gives his precious oil to soothe his wounds; he lets the man ride his animal; he gives his money for the man’s care and lodgings; and Jesus says, “Go and do likewise”…. “GO and DO!”… Go and be like the Samaritan.
Over the centuries Christians have often read this parable as Jesus attacking Jewish hypocrisy. This interpretation almost completely misses the point. Christians could read the parable and feel superior to the Jewish priest and the Jewish Levite and by extension feel superior to Judaism and Jews in general. Thus a parable which attacks prejudice could become a parable used to promote prejudice.
Yes the Levite and the priest in the story are shown to be hypocrites, but they are not representatives of Judaism; they are representative of any faith or any ideology that proclaims to care about the human condition, and goes right along as if the real suffering of human beings was a matter of indifference.
In a Jewish context it is a story of Jewish hypocrisy.
In a Christian context it is a story of Christian hypocrisy.
If Jesus had told the parable in Samaria, it would be know as The Parable of the Good Jew.
If he told the parable today in a Shia neighborhood, it would be The Parable of the Good Sunni.
It was reported yesterday that The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will settle its clergy abuse cases for at least $600 million, by far the largest payout in the church’s sexual abuse scandal.
The AP reports:
Attorneys for the archdiocese and alleged victims are expected to announce the deal tomorrow, the day the first of more than 500 clergy abuse cases was scheduled for jury selection, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. The archdiocese and its insurers will pay between $600 million and $650 million to about 500 plaintiffs — an average of $1.2 million to $1.3 million per person. The settlement also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge assigned to oversee the litigation, the sources said. Among the largest total payouts was $100 million in 2004 by the Diocese of Orange, California, to settle 90 claims. The Diocese of Boston agreed in 2003 to pay $84 million for 552 cases, the same figure the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, agreed last year to pay to settle about 360 claims. Facing a flood of abuse claims, five dioceses — Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego — sought bankruptcy protection.
Shattered lives: millions – now billions – of dollars meant for ministry, will instead go to redress the injuries committed by those who were sent to minister. Over the decades of abuse committed by priests – and pastors and leaders of other denominations and rabbis and religious leaders of every kind. The Catholic Church has perhaps had more than its share, but it is by no means only a Catholic problem.
Over these decades of abuse – with all the victims left bloody by the side of the road – how many good and proper religious people, people who knew the truth, walked by on the other side? How many people were silent and by their silence condemned others to suffer?
The scandal is first a scandal of violence and harm –
and then it is a scandal of denial and a scandal of silence.
Jesus’ parable is a story of cruelty and violence, and it is a parable about silence – about passing by on the other side of the road – a parable about not seeing what we see.
We live in a time in which silence is very seductive. Silence is seductive for lots of reasons – I’ll name two:
Scared people tend to be silent. The atmosphere of fear in our society and in our world in the age of terror seduces us into silence. We accept quietly the lies and deceptions of our leaders. We accept quietly the infringements on the human rights of others and the creeping invasions of our own liberties. Scared people tend to be silent, but there is no safety in silence; it is a false safety.
Silence is also seductive, because there is so much injustice and so many crises in our time. If I try to address the inequalities in health care, someone may say, “Why aren’t you doing something about genocide in Darfur?” If I try to address the problem of global warming, someone may say, “Why aren’t you doing something about the war?” If I work for human rights, someone may say, “Why aren’t you working for animal rights?”
We are aware of so many issues simultaneously that we are easily paralyzed into silence and passivity. No to mention the fact that doing anything about anything is inconvenient – just ask the Samaritan who had to go out of his way, delay his trip, and spend money he had not planned to spend. It’s easier just to keep quiet and keep a low profile.
But Jesus ends his parable with the words: go and do.
Go and do!
Go and do what you can.
Go and do what you can do with your time
and your body
and your checkbook
and your credit card
and your voice
and your vote
and your words.
Go and do something with your life that reflects the justice and the mercy of God and the compassion of Christ in this beautiful messed up world.
Those who are doing less will criticize you for not doing more.
Those who are afraid of change will criticize you for rocking the boat.
Those who are committed to other causes may complain that you are ignoring their cause.
But don’t be deterred by any of these things.
Remember the question – and let your life be continually an answer to the question: “Who is my neighbor?”
Go and do.
Go and do what you can.